WeTransfer cuts server emissions and grows core business on AWS
The global content distribution platform is proving that an innovative digital business can continue to grow globally, at the same time as cutting carbon emissions that stem from increased reliance on data servers.
Can a business scale up its operations and usage while scaling down its carbon emissions? Can it decouple its growth from its environmental impact?
These are questions that WeTransfer must find urgent answers to. The growth of this highly innovative and rapidly growing business depends on digital infrastructure, connectivity, and data—and these things come with a carbon footprint. Most discussions around reducing carbon emissions focus on physical products and processes. However, digital infrastructure also involves significant energy use.
WeTransfer is a global content distribution platform that serves more than 80 million active monthly users, who share and collaborate on creative work across 190 countries. The company offers one of the largest interactive ad billboards on the internet.
“People don’t understand that everything they do uses energy—from a video conference to sending an email or seeing an ad—and that energy results in CO2 emissions,” explains Lina Ruiz, director of social responsibility for WeTransfer. “A mobile-first world makes these things even more urgent, because everybody is using data centers for everything. Even though invisible to the naked eye, optimizing those services now will have a positive impact on future emissions.”
Moving the conversation on carbon impact from ‘why?’ to ‘how?’
Reducing the carbon impact of business operations and data starts with recognizing the environmental impact digital infrastructure can have—and then questioning the way that businesses use that infrastructure, in order to find innovative solutions. In Amazon Web Services (AWS), WeTransfer found a provider ready to help it take that journey.
“The trust that we have with AWS allows us to say things quite openly,” says WeTransfer’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Alexandar Vassilev. “I’ve been impressed by its strong understanding that a need exists, so we can have a conversation, not about ‘Why?’ but about ‘How?’”
Those conversations led to AWS approaching WeTransfer with a suggestion for using the Customer Carbon Footprint Tool to track, measure and forecast the carbon emissions generated by WeTransfer’s use of AWS. The tool helps organizations actively manage the environmental impact of digital business models—and in the case of WeTransfer, it pointed to the changes that could reduce that impact quickly. “In 2021, data servers accounted for as much as 91 percent of our total carbon footprint, and so we decided to tackle that first,” says Ruiz.
A dynamic approach to data, with dramatic results
WeTransfer developed an energy optimization strategy leveraging Amazon EC2 Auto-scaling for a more flexible approach to compute capacity. Amazon EC2 Auto-scaling enables customers to scale capacity up and down as required. “It ensures we’re not holding more compute time and server capacity than we actually need, so that it can be used for other workloads, which lowers environmental impact,” says WeTransfer’s CTO, Dan Conti. “However, when we do have spikes, we can scale up to meet them effectively.”
This approach is already yielding results, and helped to drive a staggering 78% reduction in the emissions from server use in 2022. At the same time as WeTransfer’s business continued to expand, its environmental impact headed decisively in the opposite direction.
Cutting carbon without compromising user experience
“As our usage and business started to grow, our emissions started to grow also,” Conti describes. “Then, when we started implementing these measures, our server emissions dropped overall, despite our business continuing to grow. We’re not changing the user experience; we’re just focusing on how we use the technologies available to us.”
The decoupling of innovation and growth from environmental impact has big implications, and not just for WeTransfer’s own business. The company aims to be a role model for others.
With its annual Doing Business Better review, WeTransfer has created a toolkit with best practices and insight for organizations looking to cut the carbon footprint of their digital operations or advertising. By doing all the groundwork to understand its own impact, WeTransfer is not just providing a low-carbon alternative for transferring digital assets, it’s also in a position to offer brands and media buyers a direct means of reducing emissions when marketing to new audiences. “Seeing how our employees have incorporated the concept of sustainability with the concept of a business makes me optimistic,” says Vassilev. “I think that this generation of change will continue, and we’ll see massive progress.”
- AWS Customer Carbon Footprint Tool
- Check out this video to see the WeTransfer team further discuss this topic of innovation and sustainability in their business: